An innovative new wheelchair is helping users to navigate by shifting their body weight to the left or right; essentially, the backrest responds to the weight and acts as a steering wheel. The chair is called the “Reagiro” and was invented by Swiss Design Engineer Reto Togni.
If you have ever used a wheelchair temporarily or are among the about 1.5 million Americans and 132 million people on Earth who need a wheelchair regularly, you may be aware of how difficult it is to use one’s hands for other tasks while powering and steering the wheels. One of the main design advantages of the Reagiro, which is not yet on the market, is that it frees up one or both of the user’s hands for other tasks, such as holding a phone, coffee or other object of daily life. The designer also thinks tilting the chair will add a degree of novelty and enjoyment for users.
Along with being more convenient to steer, Togni believes his creation can potentially relieve or prevent some of the repetitive stress injuries common to wheelchair users’ arms. Steering it through lateral tilting may also prove to be an effective core workout.
Carpal tunnel syndrome and shoulder pain --specifically rotator cuff strain and impingement syndrome -- are among the most common injuries faced by wheelchair users, particularly in cases of “overuse,” according to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability. Power-assist wheelchairs are sometimes chosen to relieve some of the strain of manual operation.
According to the description of the wheelchair on Togni's site:
Tilting sideways for steering is closely connected to fun, delight and a sense of freedom. Simultaneously, as it no longer matters where the kinetic energy comes from, one can very easily move one-handedly, leaving room for a cup of coffee, a smartphone or an umbrella. On the medical side it has shown potential through stimulating core muscles and relieving the hands. A lot of the breaking efforts for changing or keeping direction are rendered obsolete.”
Togni adds that these “are hypothetical benefits at this stage that need to be explored in a clinical trial.”
Togni’s wheelchair features a smaller set of front wheels that can turn left or right. When the user leans to one side or the other, the backrest, which is linked to the front axle, begins to direct the chair into a curving turn. Kieron Marchese of Design Boom points out that this patent-pending style of automatic mechanical body-weight pivoting may make turning safer and reduce the chance of tipping. The Reagiro will likely not be available for several years, Gizmodo reports.
The Reagiro won the Snowdon Trust Award for Disability at the Helen Hamlyn Design Awards. Togni studied at the Zurich University of the Arts and the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. He believes, “shaping products is intrinsically tied to shaping society.” Explore more of his work on his site and view the Reagiro in action below.